Kochi: Gold was smuggled at least 21 times in diplomatic parcels through the Thiruvananthapuram International Airport, the Customs Department has found.
It got the information during the interrogation of Swapna Suresh and Sandeep Nair, the two main accused in the diplomatic baggage gold smuggling case that was detected on July 5.
Swapna and Sandeep's smuggling gang first sent a ‘test dose’ of two diplomatic parcels without gold in June 2019. If the ‘test dose’ consignments are included, then 23 parcels of the gang reached the Thiruvananthapuram airport through the diplomatic channel.
After the 'test dose', when no one was willing to put money in the smuggling operation because of the increase in gold prices, Sandeep and K T Ramees, another accused in the case, approached hawala dealers and other such sources for funding.
The gang’s gold smuggling intensified in November and December 2019. According to some of the accused, the smuggling started with 3.5 kg of gold. However, the Customs Department believes 18 diplomatic parcels had 5-10 kg of smuggled gold each.
The smuggling stopped for a while after the COVID-19 outbreak. It started again in June. Investments in the smuggling operations by hawala groups started during this period.
On June 24, 16.5 kg of gold was smuggled and on June 28, 25 kg was brought in through the diplomatic channel. The parcel with 30 kilogrammes of gold that arrived on June 30 was seized by the Customs officials at the Thiruvananthapuram airport.
But, there is discrepancy in the statements of each of the accused on the amount of gold smuggled and Customs officials are working to get more clarity. They suspect the accused are trying to hide the real figures.
NIA conducts inquiries at Nedumbassery airport
The National Investigation Agency (NIA) team looking into the gold smuggling case conducted inquiries at the Kochi International Airport on Saturday. The team was led by IG Nitish Kumar and DIG K B Vandana.
The team sought details about the duty system of Customs and immigration officials, the functioning of the CCTVs and the monitoring method. It also visited the cargo section.
K T Ramees, who has been arrested in the Thiruvananthapuram gold smuggling case, had travelled through the Nedumbassery airport several times. The team has also collected details about those who had travelled with him.
TN agents in custody
The National Investigation Agency (NIA) has extended its probe into the smuggling of gold in diplomatic luggage through the Thiruvananthapuram airport to Tamil Nadu.
The agency took three agents into custody in Tiruchirappalli. After interrogating them, it conducted inquiries at various places in Chennai on Saturday.
The NIA questioned several people working as gold sales agents at a secret location on Saturday. The interrogation and questioning will continue on Sunday.
It has not taken anyone into custody in Chennai so far.
It also took statements from Customs officials who were recently transferred to Chennai from Kerala.
The probe team was acting on information that the gold smuggled through the Thiruvananthapuram airport was sold through agents in Tamil Nadu.
The NIA learnt that the smuggled gold was sold in Tamil Nadu during the interrogation of Swapna Suresh, P S Sarith and Sandeep Nair, the main accused in the Thiruvananthapuram International Airport case.
The agency has also found out that gangs operating through the Chennai airport, another hub for gold smuggling, had links to the case. About 400 kg of gold was smuggled through the Chennai airport last year.
A five-member NIA team is carrying out the investigations in Chennai. The team reached Chennai after inspecting a jewellery shop in Tiruchirappalli and conducting inquiries in Bengaluru.
Meanwhile, an inquiry is also underway to find out if K T Ramees, the main accused in the Thiruvananthapuram gold smuggling case, had any connection with M Sivasankar, the former principal secretary of Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan.